U.S. Terror Plot Intelligence Was Old

WASHINGTON -- Most of the al-Qaida surveillance of five financial institutions that led to a new U.S. terrorism alert Sunday was conducted before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and authorities are not sure whether the casing of the buildings has continued, numerous intelligence and law enforcement officials said yesterday.

More than half a dozen government officials interviewed Monday, who declined to be identified because classified information is involved, said that most, if not all, of the information about the buildings seized by authorities in a raid in Pakistan last week was about three years old, and possibly older.

"There is nothing right now that we're hearing that is new," said one senior law enforcement official who was briefed on the alert. "Why did we go to this level? ... I still don't know that."

One piece of information on one building, which intelligence officials would not name, appears to have been updated in a computer file as late as January 2004, according to a senior intelligence official. But officials could not say yesterday whether that piece of data was the result of active surveillance by al-Qaida or came instead from information about the buildings that is publicly available.

Many U.S. administration officials stressed yesterday that even three-year-old intelligence, when coupled with other information about al-Qaida's plans to attack the United States, justified the massive security response in the three cities. Police and other security teams have been assigned to provide extra protection for the surveyed buildings, identified as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank headquarters in Washington; the New York Stock Exchange and Citigroup Center in New York; and the Prudential Financial building in Newark, New Jersey.

Intelligence officials said that the remarkably detailed information about the surveillance -- which included logs of pedestrian traffic and notes on the types of explosives that might work best against each target -- was evaluated in light of general intelligence reports received this summer indicating that al-Qaida hopes to strike a U.S. target before the November presidential elections.

Several officials also said that much of the information compiled by terrorist operatives about the buildings was obtained through the Internet or other "open sources" available to the general public, including some floor plans.

The characterization of the age of the intelligence yesterday cast a new light on Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge's announcement Sunday that the terrorism threat alert for the financial services sectors in the three cities had been raised. Ridge and other officials stressed Sunday the urgency of acting on the newly obtained information, but yesterday a range of officials made clear how dated much of the intelligence was.

 The Statue of Liberty readied itself to welcome the world's huddled masses on Tuesday for the first time since the 2001 attacks, though the statue's crown will remain out of reach for now, The Associated Press reported.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Interior Secretary Gayle Norton were expected to join a crowd for the ceremonial reopening of the pedestal.

Also expected was an Army band and chorus, and a flyover by New Jersey Air National Guard fighter jets.